Maryknoll program teaches about missionaries, world

| Anne Neuberger - For The Catholic Spirit | October 6, 2010 | 0 Comments

Rachel LeMair, a second-grader at St. Michael School in Prior Lake and Sophie Wenthe, a seventh-grader, work Sept. 17 making a booklet with photos cut from Maryknoll magazine. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Early this school year, at St. Michael Catholic School in Prior Lake, a mixed group of seventh- and second-graders poured over Maryknoll Magazine together.

Their teachers, William Olson and Angela Gorman, had just explained what a missionary is and challenged the students to imagine themselves as missionaries. Each group was to look in the magazine for kinds of work missionaries do. Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America founded in 1911, includes brothers, sisters, priests, and lay missionaries.

This led to impromptu skits showing sisters providing food and clothing to children, a priest saying Mass, and lay missionaries helping build roads.

Olson feels that adults need to nurture in children the ability to see others as God’s family, as well as the desire to reach out to those in need. He says this is like developing a muscle, and “it takes a lot to develop it.”

Teaching, serving

One of several ways he does this is by using the Maryknoll Classroom Program. This provides every student with a copy of Maryknoll Magazine. The teacher also receives a poster for display and a lesson plan for grades kindergarten through five, or grades six through 12.  These free materials are sent each month of the school year.

Olson finds he can easily tie in the Maryknoll program with themes in the religion textbook the seventh grade uses. He says the Maryknoll materials “are like subtitles to the textbook.” He combines both with scriptures that are applicable to these themes.

In addition to teaching religion, Olson is a social studies teacher. He says the topics in both classes, along with the Maryknoll materials, overlap constantly. This helps young people begin to see how they bring their faith to the world outside of the classroom.

He feels that teaching youngsters to serve one another, along with prayer, are two of the greatest privileges of a Catholic school teacher.

Often his seventh grade works with Gorman’s second graders as “prayer buddies.” Together they learn about social justice, faith and mission.

Gorman, who has also taught kindergarten and first grade, says young children are very capable of learning about “big” topics and concepts. While some still think the world is about as large as their neighborhoods, the Maryknoll materials introduce them to people and places far away. This leads to discussions about their faith and Catholic social teaching.

“Even kindergarteners can ask themselves what they can do for others,” Gorman said.

“There is so much in the world that is negative,” she adds. “And yet, even though there may be sad or difficult topics in Maryknoll Magazine, it is presented in such a positive way.”

Program a useful package

The poster included with the materials is a visual reminder of what the second-graders learned that month about missions, a different culture, and God’s family in other places. Often the children suggest they pray for all the people they encountered in the lesson.

“They realize that that if they can’t go to these places, they can still pray for the people there,” Gorman said.

Like Olson, Gorman finds the program contributes to other aspects of the curriculum. Through it, children are reading, learning language, printing, cutting, observing and gaining a faith vocabulary.

Gorman also plans to use it as part of sacramental preparation for reconciliation and first Eucharist later in the school year.

Some of the stories in the magazine give examples of forgiveness. Photographs in it may show others receiving the Eucharist.

Gorman and Olson continue to bring their students together to look at the photos, answer questions, cut out pictures and make their own booklets as they absorb the essence of God’s love through mission work.

“You never know when you may be influencing a child who has the heart of a missioner,” Olson said.

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Category: World Mission Sunday